Apple’s iOS 14 will give users option to decline ad tracking

A new version of iOS wouldn’t be the same without a bunch of security and privacy updates. Apple on Monday announced a ton of new features it’ll bake into iOS 14, expected out later this year with the release of new iPhones and iPads.

Apple said it will allow users to share your approximate location with apps, instead of your precise location. It’ll allow apps to take your rough location without identifying precisely where you are. It’s another option that users have when they give over their location. Last year, Apple allowed users to give over their location once so that apps can’t track a person as they go about their day.

iPhones with iOS 14 will also get a camera recording indicator in the status bar. It’s a similar feature to the camera light that comes with Macs and MacBooks. The recording indicator will sit in the top bar of your iPhone’s display when your front or rear camera is in use.

But the biggest changes are for app developers themselves, Apple said. In iOS 14, users will be asked if they want to be tracked by the app. That’s a major change that will likely have a ripple effect: by allowing users to reject tracking, it’ll reduce the amount of data that’s collected, preserving user privacy.

Apple also said it will also require app developers to self-report the kinds of permissions that their apps ask for. This will improve transparency, allowing the user to know what kind of data they may have to give over in order to use the app. It’s a feature that Android users have been able to see app permissions for years on the Google Play app store.

The move is Apple’s latest assault against the ad industry as part of the tech giant’s privacy-conscious mantra.

The ad industry has frequently been the target of Apple’s barbs, amid a string of controversies that have embroiled both advertisers and data-hungry tech giants, like Facebook and Google, which make the bulk of their profits from targeted advertising. As far back as 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook said its Silicon Valley rivals are “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it.” Apple, which makes its money selling hardware, “elected not to do that,” said Cook.

As targeted advertising became more invasive, Apple countered by baking in new privacy features to its software, like its intelligence tracking prevention technology and allowing Safari users to install content blockers that prevent ads and trackers from loading.

Just last year Apple told developers to stop using third-party trackers in apps for children or face rejection from the App Store.

Clockwise CEO Matt Martin: How we closed an $18M Series B during a pandemic

It all started with an email from a customer: “Do you know why Bain Capital Ventures is reaching out to me about Clockwise?”

That email would mark the beginning of a journey toward closing $18 million in new funding that will dramatically accelerate my company, Clockwise . It would require getting to know a partner in lockdown, long nights assembling a pitch deck and many bleary-eyed Zoom calls with some of the best VCs in the world.

Here’s how Ajay Agarwal from Bain Capital Ventures and I established trust online, how I made high-stakes decisions in extreme economic uncertainty and how we were able to turn the pandemic’s constraints into opportunities.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Building momentum: 2016 to 2020

Clockwise was founded in late fall of 2016. We realized that, as personal as time is, our schedules inside modern work environments are intertwined by a network of calendar events and attendees. People schedule meetings without considering the preferences of colleagues by simply hunting for any available “white space” (read: time to do real work). The net effect is that our most valuable resource, time, is easy to take and almost impossible to protect.

More than two years later, in June of 2019, we launched Clockwise to the public. After years of experimentation and refinement, we delivered to the world an intelligent calendar assistant that frees up your time so you can focus on what matters. Workers soon confirmed our hunch that they’re hungry for a tool that gives them more productive hours in their day. Our rapid user growth carried throughout 2019.

By January of 2020, we were on fire. Since January 1, our user base has grown by more than 90%, expanding at a clip of well over 5% week-over-week. As people sought remote tools during shelter-in-place, our rate of growth accelerated even further.

Our growth, incredible team, top-tier existing investors (Accel and Greylock) and strong cash position meant we didn’t need to raise additional capital until the fall of 2020. While COVID-19 certainly sent shock waves through the community, I was in regular communication with a few highly engaged investors who still seemed eager to invest in the future of productivity. I felt cautiously confident more capital could wait.

But, you know, best-laid plans.

Establishing trust while sheltering in place

Zoom and CrowdStrike hang onto 2020 gains despite huge earnings expectations

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Yesterday after the bell, Zoom and CrowdStrike reported earnings. The two technology shops, members of the SaaS cohort of public companies that has performed so well this year, had high expectations to meet.

This column noted on Monday that both companies could help set market sentiment regarding SaaS valuations at firms thought to enjoy a strong updraft from COVID-19 and its related market disruptions; working from home means that many companies needed new, better video conferencing abilities and more security tooling, the two things that Zoom and CrowdStrike provide.

If the pair failed to detail strong recent performance, their share prices, long rising, could have dramatically corrected.

But, in a huge boon to public SaaS companies — and, therefore, late-stage private SaaS valuations and early-stage SaaS investment — Zoom and CrowdStrike reported impressive financial gains. Notably in the case of Zoom, the improved results were sufficiently priced in that the company’s share price didn’t rise much after this disclosure, but defending huge gains was still a difficult feat.

CrowdStrike shares did rise after it reported its results.

On the heels of one of the sharpest rallies in SaaS history, let’s dig into how quickly the two firms grew and see what their new valuations and revenue multiples tell us about investor sentiment. If you are in a hurry, the short answer is that the risk-on move towards SaaS stocks doesn’t look like its about to abate. For those bullish on software companies, it’s a good week.

Great expectations

Let’s talk numbers first. Here’s how things shook out:

C4 Ventures raises $88M fund for for post-Series A startups, in a post-COVID19 world

C4 Ventures, the Paris -based VC, has raised a new €80 million ($88 million) “Fund II”. The fund was founded by Pascal Cagni, a former Europe boss of Apple, and includes cofounder Raph Crouan, another Apple alumni previously with Techstars and Hardware Club. C4 is designed to be a “post-Series A” fund and normally invests around €3-4 million euros.

The new fund is described as a “boutique” VC which will focus on tech which will thrive in “post-Covid” world. Recruited by the late Steve Jobs, Cagni started the fund within months of leaving Apple, but the firm didn’t become significant until 2014. Outside of business, Cagni is an “ally” to President Emmanuel Macron and has worked on several initiatives to boost France’s technology and entrepreneurship sectors.

Cagni, who was head of Apple in Europe from 2000 to 2012, said: “Having witnessed first-hand technology’s unique power to drive real-time behavioral change, we believe that, although Covid-19 is going to bring about an economic slowdown, it is also going to be a breeding ground for innovation and change through disruptive tech,” said Pascal Cagni. “We felt confident that we should, as planned, raise and deploy capital during this period.”

Fund II has a good head start, having invested in seven companies which will be able to adapt to a Post-Covid world including:

• Zoov, a French electric bike-sharing platform

DriveNets, a software company adapting the cloud model to networking, allowing consumer service providers to scale up for lower costs.

• Trouva, a European online homeware marketplace helping independent local shops scale their offers online.

C4 has previously invested in include Nest, the smart thermostat company acquired by Google for $3.2 billion, and Graphcore, an AI chip start-up now valued at over $2 billion. But it also put cash into Anki, a consumer robotics company that went bust last year after raising around $200 million.

Facebook and PayPal invest in Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant GoJek

Facebook and PayPal have made investments in GoJek, joining Google and Tencent among other high-profile technology companies that have backed the Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm.

Facebook, for which it is the first investment in an Indonesia-based firm, and PayPal did not disclose the size of their checks. Five-year-old GoJek said the companies were participating in its ongoing financing round.

Gojek, WhatsApp and Facebook are indispensable services in Indonesia. Working together we can help bring millions of small businesses and the customers they serve into the largest digital economy in Southeast Asia,” said Matt Idema, Chief Operating Officer at WhatsApp, in a statement.

More to follow…

Facebook to acquire Giphy in a deal reportedly worth $400 million

Facebook will acquire Giphy, the web-based animated gif search engine and platform provider, Facebook confirmed today, in a deal worth around $400 million, according to a report by Axios. Facebook said it isn’t disclosing terms of the deal. Giphy has grown to be a central source for shareable, high-engagement content, and its animated response gifs are available across Facebook’s platforms, as well as through other social apps and services on the web.

Most notably, Giphy provides built-in search and sticker functions for Facebook’s Instagram, and it will continue to operate in that capacity, becoming a part of the Instagram team. Giphy will also be available to Facebook’s other apps through existing and additional integrations. People will still be able to upload their own GIFs, and Facebook intends to continue to operate Giphy under its own branding and offer integration to outside developers.

Facebook says it will invest in additional tech development for Giphy, as well as build out new relationships for it on both the content side and the endpoint developer side. The company says that fully 50% of traffic that Giphy receives already comes from Facebook’s apps, including Instagram, Messenger, the FB app itself and WhatsApp .

Giphy was founded in 2013, and was originally simply a search engine for gifs. The website’s first major product expansion was an extension that allowed sharing via Facebook, introduced later in its founding year, and it quickly added Twitter as a second integration. According to the most recent data from Crunchbase, Giphy had raised $150.9 million across five rounds, backed by funders including DFJ Growth, Lightspeed, Betaworks, GV, Lerer Hippeau and more.

India’s Glance tops 100 million daily active users in 21 months

Glance, which serves media content, news, and casual games on the lock screen of Android -powered smartphones, has amassed 100 million daily active users, it said today.

The subsidiary of ad-firm InMobi Group reached the milestone in 21 months in what appears to be the shortest duration for any popular internet service to gain their first 100 million daily active users, said Naveen Tewari, founder and chief executive of InMobi Group, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Glance uses AI to offer personalized experience to its users. The service replaces the otherwise empty lock screen with locally relevant news, stories, and casual games. Late last year, InMobi acquired Roposo, a Gurgaon-headquartered startup, that has enabled it to introduce short-form videos on the platform.

“Introducing short-form videos and games on Glance has helped us increase the engagement level. About 25% of our users actively play games on Glance,” said Tewari. The firm is now working to make these short-form videos available in many local languages. (You can also try the service on your mobile web browser.)

In addition to offering a standalone app on Google Play Store, Glance ships pre-installed on several smartphone models. InMobi Group maintains tie-ups with nearly every top Android smartphone vendor including Xiaomi, the top player in India, and Samsung.

But users can easily disable the service, said Tewari, adding that the 100 million users the firm is reporting today are those who consciously engage with content on Glance. Users spend about 25 minutes consuming content on Glance each day, he said.

Sitting on the lock screen, perhaps the most coveted real estate on a smartphone to reach a user, has allowed Glance to deliver any information to a very large number of users in a short time. Tewari said more than 50 million users reacted to Glance informing them about India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech last month surrounding the lockdown in the country, for instance.

“We are not just a short-form video platform. We are not just a gaming platform nor one that serves just news. Given where we sit, we cater to nearly everything that is out there across the world. So everyone has something to consume,” he said.

The service is currently available in India, its biggest market with more than 80 million users, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Tewari said the firm plans to roll out Glance across the globe in the next two years.

Glance, which raised $45 million last year, is currently not monetizing its users. Tewari said he has experimented with a few ideas, but won’t make any push on this front for another one to two quarters.

Apple adds COVID-19 testing sites to Maps across the U.S., and shares more mobility data

Apple has now added COVID-19 testing sites to its Apple Maps app across the U.S., covering all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The update provide testing locations including hospitals, clinics, urgent car facilities, general practitioners, pharmacies and more, as well as dedicated COVID-19 testing sites, where tests are available. In addition, COVID-19 is now a prioritized point-of-interest option when you go to search for locations. Apple also updated its new Mobility Trends website, which provides free access to anonymized, aggregated data bout how people are getting around their cities and regions during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Maps update was reported last week, first spotted by 9to5Mac through a portal that Apple created in order to allow test site providers to provide their site location so that it could be added to the database. Now, it’s live and lives alongside other prioritized search options in Maps, which have been customized for the pandemic, and which include grocery stores, food delivery, pharmacies, hospitals and urgent care facilities.

As for the Mobility Trends site, it now includes improved regionalization, like state or province level search, depending on what terms a country uses, and it’s also been better localized, including use of a area’s local name added to search results to ensure that everyone can find what they’re looking for globally. Also, in the U.S., there are now more cities available to review.

Apple’s made this data available in order to help governments, transportation authorities and cities make better sense of the impact that the ongoing pandemic is having, and potentially provide information about the effective of, and compliance rate with, efforts like broad social distancing measures and shelter-in-place orders. The data comes from info about what methods of directions users are selecting within the Maps app, but it’s worth noting that Apple’s Maps app has privacy built-in by default, so it doesn’t collect any personal information along with guidance search info.

Facebook to launch ‘virtual dating’ over Messenger for Facebook Dating users

Facebook will soon allow users to go on “virtual dates,” the company announced today. The social network is planning to introduce a new video calling feature that will allow users of its Facebook Dating service to connect and video call over Messenger, as an alternative to going on a real-world date. This sort of feature is much in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced people to stay home and practice social distancing.

But for online dating apps, which aim to connect people in the real world, it’s a significant challenge for their business.

For the time being, government lockdowns have limited the places where online daters could meet up for their first date. Restaurants, malls, bars and other retail establishments are closed across regions impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. But even when those restrictions lift, many online dating app users will be wary of meeting up with strangers for those first-time, getting-to-know-you dates. Video chat offers a safer option to explore potential connections with their matches.

When the new Facebook Dating feature goes live, online daters will be able to invite a match to a virtual date. The recipient can either choose to accept or decline the offer via a pop-up that appears.

If they accept, the Facebook Dating users will be connected in a video chat powered by Facebook Messenger in order to get to know one another.

As the feature is still being developed, Facebook declined to share more specific details about how it will work, in terms of privacy and security features.

Facebook is not the first online dating service to pivot to video as a result of the pandemic. But many rival dating apps were adopting video features well before the coronavirus struck, as well.

Bumble, for example, has offered voice and video calling in its app for roughly a year. The feature there works like a normal phone call or Apple’s FaceTime. However, users don’t have to share their phone number or other private information, like an email address, which makes it safer.

The company says use of the feature has spiked over the last two months as users embrace virtual dating.

Meanwhile, Match Group has more recently rolled out video across a number of the dating apps it operates.

This month, the Match app added video chat that allows users who have already matched to connect over video calls. Match-owned Hinge also rolled out a “Dating from Home” prompt and is preparing its own live video date feature, as well, Match says. Plenty of Fish (PoF), another Match property, launched live-streaming in March, giving singles a new way to hang out with friends and potential matches.

Match Group’s flagship app Tinder has not yet embraced live video dates, but still offers a way for users to add video to their profiles. The company couldn’t comment on whether or not video dating was in the works for Tinder, but in the post-COVID era, it would be almost bizarre to not offer such feature.

Other dating apps have also launched video dating, including eHarmony and a number of lesser-known dating apps hoping to now gain traction for their video dating concepts.

Facebook says the feature will roll out in the months ahead and will be available everywhere Facebook Dating is available.

Vivaldi browser gets built-in tracking blocker, goes GA on Android

Vivaldi, the browser launched by former Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner, has long positioned itself as a highly customizable alternative to Chrome and Firefox for power users. Today, the team is launching version 3.0 of its desktop browser, with built-in tracker and ad blockers, and it’s bringing its Android browser out of beta.

I’ve long been a fan of Vivaldi, but the company was relatively late to the tracking protection game. Now, it’s doubling down on this, by integrating a blocklist powered by DuckDuckGo’s Tracker Radar.

Like competing browsers, Vivaldi offers three blocking levels that users can easily toggle on and off for individual websites. Those blocking levels are relatively blunt, though, with the options to either block trackers, block trackers and ads or disable blocking. Competitors like Edge offer slightly more nuanced options for blocking trackers, though I would expect Vivaldi to adopt a similar scheme over time.

For the most part, the Vivaldi team always said that it would delegate ad blocking to extensions, though it added the option to block highly intrusive ads in the middle of last year. And while the company still notes that blocking trackers provides enough privacy protection, with today’s update, it now also gives users the option to block virtually all ads without the need to download any extensions (as a Chromium-based browser, Vivaldi supports all Chrome extensions).

Also new in the desktop version is a clock. Yes. A clock. That may sound like a weird feature, given that your desktop of choice surely features a clock, but like all things Vivaldi, you can a) remove it and b) there is actually some usefulness here as you can, for example, set up timers if you’re into Pomodoro or similar productivity techniques. And because it is Vivaldi, you can set all kinds of custom alarms and countdown timers, too.

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As for the mobile version, which is now generally available for Android 5 and higher, the most important fact is probably that it exists, given how most users expect to be able to easily sync their bookmarks, passwords and browsing history between mobile and desktop. As with other browsers, you can choose what you want to sync.

Like the desktop version, Vivaldi for Android now also features a tracking and ad blocker. There’s also a built-in screenshot tool and support for Vivaldi notes, which also sync between devices.

The mobile browser isn’t quite as flexible as the desktop version, with its plethora of options, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for in a mobile browser anyway. But having a stable mobile browser that can accompany the desktop version is a big deal for Vivaldi and may give users who were on the sidelines a reason to take another look at it.

Out of the box, there’s no other browser that will give you the kind of flexibility Vivaldi does.